Improved traffic info on Google Maps: See the side streets and contribute

Google has just announced that arterial traffic is now available on Google Maps.  I’ve noticed more and more roads showing traffic data over the past few months, but today seems to be the day of the big announcement.  In fact, there are certainly more roads in my area with traffic data, which could be very useful.

Arterial traffic on Google Maps

In addition, Google is now looking to use crowdsourcing to keep the maps even more up to date.  By using Google Maps for Mobile on your device, you can choose to have it send anonymous speed data back to Google’s servers to help them update the current traffic levels in your area.  This works on virtually any mobile phone that can run Maps for Mobile with a GPS, but sadly won’t work on the iPhone.

Google Maps Mobile - Arterial Traffic

A big question people will have about this new feature is privacy.  Google tackles that on their blog by saying:

We understand that many people would be concerned about telling the world how fast their car was moving if they also had to tell the world where they were going, so we built privacy protections in from the start. We only use anonymous speed and location information to calculate traffic conditions, and only do so when you have chosen to enable location services on your phone. We use our scale to provide further privacy protection: When a lot of people are reporting data from the same area, we combine their data together to make it hard to tell one phone from another. Even though the vehicle carrying a phone is anonymous, we don’t want anybody to be able to find out where that anonymous vehicle came from or where it went — so we find the start and end points of every trip and permanently delete that data so that even Google ceases to have access to it. We take the privacy concerns related to user location data seriously, and have worked hard to protect the privacy of users who share this data — but we still understand that not everybody will want to participate. If you’d like to stop your phone from sending anonymous location data back to Google, you can find opt-out instructions here.

It looks to be some great features.  I’m hoping they get the crowdsourcing aspects of it over to the iPhone, though given the recent fighting between Apple and Google lately, that seems unlikely to happen.